After Leaked Diplomatic Letters Over A$AP Rocky’s Detention in Sweden, Where Should @StateSPEHA Go Next?

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Trump’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien who was in Sweden for A$AP Rocky’s assault trial apparently told USAToday reporter Kim Hjelmgaard that it is “entirely appropriate” for him to be in Sweden even though this was a criminal case. “When foreign govts. hold American citizens it’s always appropriate”.
The things we learn these days!
As of December 2018, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has conducted 10,399 visits to U.S. citizens in prison overseas. Note – prison visits not hostage visits. Only a few of those U.S. citizens make the news (see CA Fact Sheet).
The Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs also said publicly, while tagging his ultimate boss on Twitter, that the president “has made bringing our fellow citizens home a center piece of his foreign policy”.
Consular work just got so utterly fascinating. Now, which ones of the over 10,000 prison visits by consular officers to U.S. citizens incarcerated overseas will now be done by the special envoy? Which fellow citizens jailed overseas will be brought home next?

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Consular Affairs Asst Secretary Carl Risch Visits A$AP Rocky in Sweden, Who Else Wanna Visit?

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Update: ASAP Rocky and Co-Defendants Allowed to Leave Sweden While Awaiting Verdict (set for August 14).
Sweden’a national public television broadcaster SVT reported on July 19 that the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch was in country to meet with A$AP Rocky and the other two detained US citizens.  He reportedly also meet staff from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Also see U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden).

The report cites a statement from Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that “Risch will, among other things, meet with representatives of the Foreign Office’s consular unit and the Justice Department, as well as in the role of consular officer in attendance at one of the US embassy’s previously scheduled visits to the three detained US citizens.” (via online translation).
The Foreign Ministry further writes according to SVT that “The US embassy has confirmed that the conditions in the Swedish detention comply with both the Vienna Convention and the international standard.” This in reference to a report by TMZ that A$AP was being held in “shockingly inhumane condition”.
A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden on July 3. The State Department previously announced on July 17 that CA’s Assistant Secretary Risch was traveling to Sweden from July 18-20 apparently to “observe U.S. consular operations and meet with foreign government counterparts to underscore the enduring commitment to the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas and the facilitation of legitimate travel to the United States.”
The State Department’s own 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Sweden  under Prison and Detention Center Conditions notes:
There were no significant reports regarding prison, detention center, or migrant detention facility conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
In any case, the top gun at Consular Affairs already visited A$AP Rocky on July 19th. (Prior to Asst Secretary Risch’s visit, do you know when was the last time the assistant secretary of Consular Affairs made a prison visit overseas?).
When @StateSPEHA Robert O’Brien (the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs)  showed up in the Swedish courtroom on July 30 along with journalists, teenage rap fans and curious onlookers, the highest official in charge of Consular Affairs appeared to have already seen the three detained Americans.   One specific embassy official also has a clear role and reporting duties in the arrest and detention of American citizens. We would be surprised if U.S. Embassy Sweden’s Charge d’affaires ad interim Pamela Tremont, or post’s Consular Chief have not already visited the detainees.
Since neither the Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary nor the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs could sprung A$AP Rocky from jail, how useful are their presence in Sweden beyond appearances that they are doing something to get these individuals released?
Do we have senior officials actually thinking through the potential consequences of these actions — with senior officials descending into Sweden, and presidential tweets pressuring for the release of those in detention, plus the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs tweeting about “expedited paperworks “?
Does anyone enjoy the appearance of giving in because of some very public arm-twisting? No?
It may interest you to know that Sweden is also the “protecting power” for the United States in North Korea and has been so since September 1995. These folks know hostages. Do you think Sweden appreciates the United States decision to send a Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to a non-hostage situation there? Even if this case were to get resolved next week, do you think the Swedes will simply forget this?

Trump to Nominate PayPal Co-Founder Ken Howery to be Ambassador to Sweden

The WH announced the President’s intent to nominate venture capitalist and PaPal co-founder Kenneth Howery to be his ambassador to Sweden. The WH release a brief bio:

Kenneth A. Howery of Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.

Mr. Howery is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur specializing in creating and funding technology companies. He is a co-founder of and partner at Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm. Prior to Founders Fund, Mr. Howery co-founded PayPal, where he served as the company’s first Chief Financial Officer. Additionally, he is a founding advisor to Kiva.org, a non-profit group that helps develop the next generation of global entrepreneurs. Mr. Howery earned his B.A. in Economics from Stanford University.

His official bio from the Founders Fund is here. You might also want to check out this 2016 piece from Ivy Magazine, Behind the Scenes With PayPal Co-Founder Ken Howery.

If confirmed, Mr. Howery would succeed banker and philanthropist, Azita Raji who served as chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy Stockholm from March 2016 to January 2017. Previous appointees to the U.S. Embassy in Sweden includes lawyer, Mark Brzezinski and business executive, Matthew Barzun.  According to AFSA’s tracker, only three ambassadors appointed as chief of mission to Sweden had been career diplomats; 83.3% of ambassadors appointed to Stockholm (15 in actual number) since 1960 were non-career appointees.

That #SwedenIncident 😧–America First, Sweden Second–Listen, But Don’t ‘Bomb Ikea’

Posted: 2:19 am  ET
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U.S Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji Gets a #Gripen Ride

Posted: 12:20 am ET
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In 2010, we blogged about US Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck who flew on an F18 with the Finish Air Force.  In 2011, US Ambassador to India Tim Roemer and then Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro had their rides of a lifetime in a Lockheed Martin F/16 Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet respectively during Aero India.

Yesterday, the U.S ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji got a ride in a  with test pilot Marcus Wandt. We missed this but in 2013, her predecessor, Ambassador Brzezinski also got a Gripen ride.

According to Wikipedia, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light single-engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab. It was designed to replace the Saab 35 Draken and 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force.

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VPOTUS Swears-In New U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji

Posted: 2:53 am EDT
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Senator Cruz Blocks @StateDept Nominees While on Campaign Trail

Posted: 2:19 am EDT
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Last week —

So that’s now the third time for the last several days and counting. Duck Dynasty commander and Senator Ted Cruz has pledged to block State Department nominees over the Iran nuclear deal. He had previously conveyed his threat to hold all State Department nominations over the Iran deal in July 2015 (see letter to POTUS here – PDF). He wants the oval office, we don’t think a duck gumbo would work here.

 

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Once More, @State Dept Strongly Recommends Against Travel to North Korea

Posted: 3:01 am EDT
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The State Department has once more, issued a warning against travel to North Korea. Not sure this will dissuade folks intent on seeing the hermit kingdom.

The Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK). This replaces the Travel Warning for North Korea of April 15, 2015, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and long-term detention due to the DPRK’s inconsistent application of its criminal laws.

Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens have been subject to arrest and long-term detention for actions that would not be cause for arrest in the United States or other countries.  North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally or intentionally crossed into DPRK territory without valid visas. The Department of State has received reports of DPRK authorities detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country.  North Korea has even detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.  Do not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide will prevent North Korean authorities from detaining you or arresting you.  Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.

The Government of North Korea has detained, arrested, and imposed extremely heavy fines on persons who violated DPRK laws, such as entering the country illegally. Travelers to North Korea must enter the DPRK with a valid passport and valid DPRK visa.  Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and/or political activities (whether those activities took place inside or outside North Korea), unauthorized travel, or unauthorized interaction with the local population.

Read in full here.

There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in North Korea. In the case of a detention, arrest, or death of a U.S. citizen in North Korea, the United States can provide only limited consular services through our Protecting Power, the Embassy of Sweden.

Swedish Embassy  (U.S. Protecting Power in North Korea)
Munsu-Dong District
Pyongyang, DPRK
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 485 (reception)
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 904, (850-2) 3817 907 (Deputy)
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 908, (850-2) 3817 905 (Ambassador)
Facsimile: (850-2) 3817 663
Email:ambassaden.pyongyang@gov.se

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The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

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The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

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Death in the State Dept Family: Rayda Nadal, Foreign Service; Durron Swain, Civil Service – RIP

— Domani Spero
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On March 3, 2014 we wrote about the death of  Deron Durron Swain, a State Department employee assigned to the Miami Passport Office as reported by  Local10 in Miami. Click here for the CBS Miami report the following day. The June 2014 issue of State Magazine includes the following obituary:

Screen Shot 2014-08-16

Extracted from Obituaries, State Magazine, June 2014

The July/August issue of State Magazine includes the following obituary for Rayda Nadal, a Foreign Service OMS who died in Sweden.  The notice did not mention that she died from the gas explosion while posted at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, but we know that the OMS injured in that explosion died in Linkoping, Sweden. See US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies. If anyone  has an update on the promised investigation, we’d like to know.

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Extracted from Obituaries, State Magazine, July/August 2014

We still think that the State Department should be compelled to report the deaths of official Americans overseas. DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?

At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under chief of mission authority.

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